Putting the Joy Back Into Parenting – Exhaustion & Depletion Aren’t Par for the Mothering Course

Remember when you used to play solitaire? Would you see a bad line up of cards, and play anyway? If you are like me, you probably reshuffled the cards, gave yourself a new deal, and only played if it was good enough this time around.

Joy is similar. If you are OK with a difficult situation, or even worse, if you feel that you don’t deserve anything better, finding joy will be so much harder. It’s true that our happiness level depends a lot on our state of mind (being satisfied with what we have), but human beings have needs and limitations, and believe it or not, mothers are human beings too.

The 2 Sides of Modern Parenting

It is not unusual for a mother to run around non stop to keep her family clean, fed, happy, entertained, etc. It’s also not unusual for said mom to be tired, depleted, morally broken down — and to assume that it’s all par for the course.

Articles on mothering written by mothers often have 2 themes running. We have the:

“My life is so difficult, and as a result I’m feeling awful, snappy, depressed, and for this I apologize,” as seen in the Scary Mommy post “Apology to my Friends and Family”:

“I wish I was still that woman who made you smile because she tried to be entertaining. I wish I was still that woman who didn’t care about the consequences – fun came first. I wish I was still that woman who you laughed with like nothing else in the world mattered but your silly joke. I wish I was still that woman who had the confidence to believe in herself and simply accept that everything would work out. I wish I was still that woman who had the energy and patience and creativity to make life more fun.

Maybe, one day, I’ll find her again.”

– Or we have the seemingly opposed but not that different “my life is understandably difficult, and as a result I’m feeling awful, snappy, depressed, and if you have a problem with that, go screw yourself” as seen in some comments on the post above, and to a lesser extent, in the Mamawhelmed post entitled “It’s a Shaming”:

The thing is, I’m allowed to have “a day”. I’m allowed to have a witching hour. I’m allowed to be frustrated, overwhelmed, and even angry. And so are you.

You know what? I disagree with both points of view. Yes, we’re allowed to have bad days. Heaven knows parenting is hard work in our culture. And, yes, when our behavior is unacceptable, we most definitely need to apologize. Laura Markham, one of my parenting expert heroes, said that children do need parents who aren’t perfect, because it teaches them what the proper reaction is – how we calm down, how we apologize, and more.

But, when the “witching hour” is every day, maybe several times a day, and we slowly find ourselves fading into low lying depression, something is wrong. And it has nothing to do with parenting. It is not par for the mothering course. Parenting should be about self-discovery, joy, and passion. If our “money job” made us feel this way, we’d seriously reconsider staying. We wouldn’t say that work itself is a problem, we’d blame the work environment (hopefully!) Why should we think differently with motherhood?

Motherhood Doesn’t Mean Thankless Toil with Occasional Joys

Mothers of the world, if you find yourself in a bad mood in the morning before the day has even started, if you are ready to blow a fuse if you haven’t had your morning cup of coffee, if any slightly unacceptable behavior from your toddler throws you into ranting fits, endless lectures, panic, and generally makes you overreact, the answer is very simple. You’re not experiencing what every mom should be experiencing. You’re experiencing what any human being feels when she isn’t taking care of herself, and when the world isn’t taking care of her.

No one would expect a nurse to take care of a patient who can’t walk, talk, and feed himself, every day and every night, without a break, and for no pay. Yet, this is what we do, day in and day out, and not only does society expect us to do it, we also feel obliged to do it without payback – except for seeing our wonderful children grow up healthy and happy. Yes, this is all fine and good, but it doesn’t mean that it’s enough to fill our cup. We, as women, as opposed to just mothers, may very well need more, and we might feel that parenting does in many way empty our cup rather than fill it.

Why? Because we’re always on guard, always watching for the little something our little one might choke on, or that hidden danger he might get into as soon as we go to the bathroom (if indeed we can go on our own!) We’re always trying to make sure their body stays nourished and their teeth strong, and that they get enough intellectual stimulation, while at the same time learning to be emotionally intelligent. We never get to turn off our brain, and that alone is exhausting.

And we let the situation go on and on for years, until we start to apologize for being a joyless, depressed shell of a human being, all because we think it’s part of the obligatory rite of passage for mothers. And yet… Who said it has to be that way?

Giving Ourselves a New Deal, and Putting the Joy Back Into Parenting

#1- Stop feeling guilty for being a mom. This is something I often see in stay at home/work at home mothers, and heaven knows I felt that way for pretty much the entire first year of Franklin’s life. Oh, we’re so lucky to be able to stay home with our children. So lucky to not have to work. So lucky, even, that we are ready to kill ourselves trying to prove ourselves worthy. This is crap!

Stay at home mom or not, mothering is hard! We’re always on alert. We spend our days having less than intellectually stimulating conversations with our children, and as much as we adore them, we sometimes do need more (yet being able to hang out on a regular basis with other adults, even other moms, is surprisingly difficult). We are expected (or expect ourselves) to have from-scratch meals made by us on the table every day, at the same time, even though our children are often needy and demanding around that time. The list goes on…

Stop feeling guilty, start feeling proud. If someone criticizes you, smile and know in your heart that they don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re doing your best, you care, and your plate is most definitely fuller than most people out there.

#2- Stop trying to do everything yourself: Aha. Is that the hardest part for moms? It is for me. I was like that even in college, when we had group projects. There aren’t enough hours in a day, so why delegate to people who will not do a good job (like you would!) and make you redo everything?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Many professionals will do your work in a more than satisfactory way. For example, take housekeeping. For $150/month, you can have a pretty clean house most of the time. Feeling guilty about having a housekeeper a couple times a month? First, re-read #1. Second, know that many people have a housekeeper. You just don’t know it. When I got one, I felt seriously guilty, thinking I was spoiled and that real moms clean their house. And you know what I found out? Moms have closet housekeepers. They don’t say they do, because of that guilt I just mentioned. Or, find a student looking for extra cash who’ll do your grocery shopping for $10/hour. Just remove one item that costs $10 from the list to make up for it.

#3- Get your children to bond with someone else: As mothers, we sometimes feel that all the childcare so fall entirely on our shoulders. I actually do think that for the first 18 months at least, a child should be one primary caregiver, ideally the mother. But, that doesn’t mean it has to be 24/7. It just means that their primary attachment is to you. You still deserve downtime, and your child needs to bond with others.

To go back to #1, when Franklin was first born, I felt I had to do it all. When I was pregnant, I even told my husband I’d change every single diaper. That is complete nonsense. If your partner is around, don’t think you’re doing anyone any favors by doing it all. Your child needs to bond with your partner, and vice-versa, and you need someone your child will be happy with should you need some time alone (anything from pedicure appointments to major surgery.)

Here’s what a dear friend of mine wrote in the Nourished Village forum when I posted the Scary Mommy article above.

“Whilst I think it is always good to apologize… This sounds more like a cry for help! Why is she so tired and shattered? Why am I sitting here with a ten week old babe strapped to me whilst I relax on the sofa with my family around me?

My hubby made us all breakfast, he took Willow and Maya to the shops, we have all done our bit this morning. When I need a shower, I won’t ask T. if he minds holding W… She is his daughter! He will just take her! One of us will make lunch… We will go for a walk this afternoon… We take it in turns… I will sleep well tonight because my husband totally understands all our needs to sleep so I get the whole double bed to myself with W. whilst he shares M’s room that has two single beds.

This is GOOD behaviour and should be expected! I feel very blessed and lucky that my life is like this – it could have been very different! We tend to use words like “I have good support from my husband”, implying that we are being helped out rather than us going through the parenting journey together, which essentially is what we are doing!”

#4- Be a woman and a mom, not just a mom: Before I had kids, I wanted nothing more than being a mom. I thought it would fulfill me on every level. In many ways, it has. Dr Laura Markham said you could spend 30 years in silent meditation and be enlightened, or you could get there twice as fast by raising a child. It’s so true! Children give us so many opportunities for growth by pushing our buttons, and pointing out our shortcoming.

They are beautiful, adorable, free spirited wonders, and I can’t imagine my life without my children. But, they are a lot of work, and inner work is quite taxing as well. We all need a break! Remember to spend time with other adults, to occupy your brain with something that isn’t about children (read or write a book, watch a movie, go to the spa, start a blog, pick up a new skill…). You’ll be completely refreshed every time you get your kids back.

The bottom line

Most of this is easier said than done. It took me years to get to where I’m at, and even now, I still fall back into old habits sometimes. I’m a people pleaser, and deep down believe that if everyone is happy, I’ll be happy too. That’s crap. People are never happy all the time, which will make you feel you’re killing yourself in vain, and if they are happy and completely neglectful of your needs, you’ll feel resentful (“Why can’t they give me the same consideration?“)

My solution might not be what works for you. What really helps me is scheduling. I have a calendar with about 4 or 5 different colored categories on it. There’s my husband’s “me time”, my “me time”, our date night, and our family time. There’s Franklin’s activities, so I can either watch him have fun with others, or I can actively play with him, or so he can play with kids while I’m not around. There’s my appointments for waxing and pedicures, every 6 weeks or so – did you know you can get just a polish change for $5 in many spas? I get a pedicure every other month, but change the polish in between. Having pretty toes makes me happy. And, there’s my work time, where I get to earn my income and do something intellectually stimulating.

And, if something makes me unhappy, I try to change it. For a while, I loved making dinner with Franklin. And then, something changed. He didn’t want to do it anymore, and I didn’t want to force him. Making dinner became stressful. So, I decided I’d make dinner after my husband came home, while he played with our son. I was happier. When Franklin decided he didn’t like going to the kids’ gym, but liked the Waldorf playgroup, I ditched the gym, and replaced it with the library. When I realized I wasn’t getting any me time, I scheduled all my appointments for 6 months straight so I’d never forget to take care of myself. When I saw that I didn’t always have time to empty the dishwasher before our morning activities, but a full dishwasher led to a super cluttered kitchen in the evening, I had my husband empty it first thing in the morning – it’s 5 minutes for him while his coffee brews, but it makes world of difference to me.

These are easy examples, and they may not apply to your life, but I think you get the idea! Sit down with a pen and paper, and see what’s blocking bliss from entering your life. If you are a Nourished Village member, you can post your list there and we’ll help each other out!



Are you tired of being the mom who “does it all?” Do you long for a Village to help you out, listen when things are tough, and cheer for you every step of the way? Bring the Joy Back in Parenting, Nourish Your Soul by Connecting with Other Like-Minded Moms, and Nourish Your Body With Our Expertly Created Meal Plans! Find out more at The Nourished Village – A Nurturing Community for Moms and their Families.

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About joanna

About Joanna Steven is an Amazon best-selling author, an attachment parenting mom to 2 boys, and a lover of food. Her mission is to inspire mothers and make their life easier so they feel nurtured, nourished, and better able to raise children in a peaceful way. She regularly updates her blog with delicious, wholesome recipes, and lifestyle tips for moms seeking to live motherhood to the fullest.

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